Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah! In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph manages to gain his freedom by interpreting the Pharoah’s dreams. He has been imprisoned and left to rot in a dark cell for an offense he didn’t commit, and by the power of God and his prophetic ability to interpret dreams, he has brought light into his own life and that of all Egypt by helping them to prepare for the years of famine that will befall in them in the years to come.
The haftarah for Chanukah also alludes to dream and awakening a new time of light and freedom. Zechariah chapter 4 tells of an angel waking Zechariah out of a dream in which he saw the menorah in the Temple (the regular seven-armed kind, not a chanukiah which didn’t exist yet). On either side of the menorah in his dream were olive trees, symbols of peace and prosperity. He asked the angel what it meant, and the angel responded, “Not by military might, nor by physical power, but by the spirit of Adonai Tzeva’ot [will the prophesy of peace and prosperity come to the Jewish people].” In the time of Zechariah, this meant looking forward to building the Second Temple, the same one that the Maccabees will eventually rededicate.
However, as Rashi explains, when God says, “By My Spirit alone,” God means that God will bestow Divine wisdom and insight into a human who will help orchestrate what needs to be done. For Egypt, the tribe of Israel, and Joseph, that meant Joseph’s dream interpretations were the Spirit of God. For Zechariah and the Jews yearning for a return to Zion after the first Babylonian exile, that meant the Persian King Darius allowing them to return and allowing some of the royal treasury to be used to resettle the land of Israel. For the Maccabees, it meant learning to fight back and take control of their destinies. In each of these cases, humans still needed to recognize what needed to be done, what was the Spirit of God, and act on it. If Joseph kept his dream interpretations to himself, and chose not to share his thoughts with the butler and baker in his jail cell, then word wouldn’t have made it to Pharaoh that he could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. If he played humble and refused to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams for fear of getting them wrong, he wouldn’t have been appointed to an official position in the Egyptian royal court. If Zechariah didn’t prophesy and inspire the Jews returning to Israel to rebuild their religious life, if Darius chose to look the other way on his new subjects, then our people would not have been restored after the destruction of the First Temple. If the Maccabees continued to shy away from active resistance and fighting on Shabbat, then the acts of God couldn’t have unfolded.
There’s an old joke about a man lost in the sea. A fisherman comes by in his little boat and tosses the swimming man a net and offers to pull him to safety. But the man says, “No thank you, God will provide.” He starts to get tired and worried he can’t keep swimming much longer and the coast guard shows up in a helicopter, and tries to airlift the man out. The man says, “No thanks, I know God will provide.” He starts to drown. A dolphin tries to swim him back up to the surface and bring him toward land, but again he says, “I know God will save me.” He drowns and dies. Upon meeting God in the World to Come, he asks, “God, what happened? I did mitzvot and prayed and had faith all my life! Why didn’t you save me?” God says, “I sent you the fisherman, the coast guard, and even the freaking dolphin! What more did you want?”
The lesson here is that to bring ourselves out of the dark and into the light, we need to be able to recognize God’s spirit and use it to help ourselves move toward action. The right thing will not always just fall into place, but will require work and wisdom from ourselves and our communities. May we find in ourselves the strength to take action, the recognition of Divine wisdom, the spirit to know what is right. And may peace and light come to us all. Amen and Shabbat Chanukah Sameach.